Jeff Parker says that readers of Future Quest probably expected the story featuring Hanna-Barbera's adventure characters - like Space Ghost and Jonny Quest - to be simple or safe.
But now that the series is a few issues into its galaxy-spanning story, Parker's making it clear to readers that nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, the writer said he believes a story can't be "fun" unless there's real danger — unless, as he says, "there are stakes."
This week's Future Quest #4 puts Jonny Quest and his best friend Hadji at the forefront, along with galactic policeman Space Ghost, but also features more obscure characters like the Impossibles and Birdman. The series features designs by Parker and the late Darwyn Cooke, and DC are touting it as a New Frontier of the Hanna-Barbera adventure world.
The series is not only notable for reviving these characters, but as Parker has previously pointed out to Newsarama, these cartoons, which were re-run in various forms from the '60s to the '90s, had a big influence on today's comic book creators and television and film writers.
Newsarama talked to Parker about the high stakes story he's telling with artist Evan "Doc" Shaner, how he found the fighting styles of characters who didn't have as much screen time in the TV days, and what characters readers can expect to meet next.
Newsarama: Jeff, you've packed these issues so full of characters that it's been exciting to find out their origin stories one-by-one. You've been spreading them out a little? Letting us get involved in their current adventure before we find out their background?
Jeff Parker: Yeah, we couldn't fit all the origin stories in the beginning, and you know it's the same as it would be in real life. You don't learn everything about a person at the beginning - it takes some time to find out why they are the way they are.
So why not treat it like that with an origin story?
Nrama: You've got a flashback that helps introduce Mightor in Future Quest #4, which comes out this week. You've had to be creative with the way you tie these characters together, don't you?
Parker: Yeah, in issue #4, we open with a scene of Mightor about 45,000 years ago. Mightor was Hanna-Barbera's caveman superhero. We've got a way to kind of tie Mightor into the series, where his power's directly connected to the Creature.
That's really fun. And the flashback, I think Evan really enjoyed drawing that, because we just got to riff on something very, very comic book-y, you know, as a concept. It's this flying caveman shooting energy - that's right up there at least.
Nrama: And we meet Dino Boy in this issue!
Parker: Yes! He originally wasn't part of the series plan, but Shaner wouldn't stop drawing him. So DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio said, "Yeah, you can put him in."
He becomes a crucial part of the story at this point, and his caveman bodyguard, who he meets up with.
So you get to see some good dinosaur action.
In issue #4, you also get to see the evil terrorist agency F.E.A.R. and their secret base with Dr. Zin in it. And that part's fun for me, because I actually drew that section. And you know, I haven't drawn in quite a while.
Nrama: Yeah, how was it to get back to drawing?
Parker: It was fun! I was rusty, of course, but Steve Lieber and Colleen Coover at Helioscope Studio, where I work, have both been badgering me for awhile to try Manga Studio for digital art, because you know, I had always just used Photoshop, like most people.
I wanted to do something where I could go fast and make changes really quick, because when you're rusty, you need to admit some things aren't working and start over. And you need to do it fast.
But that program really helped me, because it feels like what inking and drawing - making a stroke with a line - really feels like, as compared to Photoshop. It's just calibrated better for that sort of thing.
So that really was extremely useful. I'm going to try to maybe draw some more stuff this year in different books.
Nrama: It's amazing how things are constantly evolving with the digital end of comic book creation.
Parker: Yeah, you see people working on Cintiqs nowadays - sometimes in addition to paper. They'll draw it digitally and then ink it in real life so there's still a page. A lot of people do that.
Nrama: Getting back to the story of Future Quest, the mystery of the Creature is what's bringing everyone together. Can you describe the nature of the Creature at all?
Parker: Yeah, we've shown, in the Herculoids scene from a bit back, this big world-ruining creature was having a last stand fighting Space Ghost, the Galaxy Trio, and the Herculoids, on the Herculoids' home world.
And it's able to move itself around, jumping to solar systems, by creating these vortexes, but it has to sacrifice a whole lot of its body mass to do it, to create the energy to make it happen and move through time and space.
So it did a huge jump from their end of the galaxy to ours, to come to Earth. And a lot of the heroes pursued it.
As a result, it's affecting the way we see different characters appearing because of time.
And that's going to tie into why Mightor is involved. The creature's hitting Earth at different points in time.
Space Ghost is still in there trying to kill it in hyperspace. You get a little glimpse of that in this issue.
But we're seeing it pretty much from Earth's perspective. And the characters who are on Earth don't know all this background. Dr. Zin is probably the most on top of it, as much as anybody, and he's one of the bad guys. But he's still a scientist and he's also found a way to get more information, because they captured one of the people who came through - Jace, who seems to be in a fevered dream, just babbling about what's happening, because something happened to him.
The upshot is that Dr. Zin, this thing that he was hoping to control coming through - he's starting to realize it's way bigger than he first imagined and he can't control it. And in fact, what's coming through is just going to wipe the Earth.
So it's to the point now where you're getting a better sense of what it's like. Birdman and Deva already ran into it in the desert one time - a little chunk of it – that Birdman was able to take care of.
But now they're going to get the whole thing.
Jonny and the others are still oblivious. They're just trying to help someone ellude a dinosaur down in South America.
Nrama: Right. It's not only a worldwide story, but it spans galaxies and even time eras, and it's all because of this Creature.
Parker: Yeah. I'm trying to tell a story that's kind of spread out everywhere, with a lot of points of view. I like something that has that kind of epic feel, and it's fun to pull it off with something that you probably previously dismissed as "oh, those are just simple Hanna-Barbera kids cartoons."
We're not going super heavy with it, but the implications of the threat are big.
Nrama: Future Quest #4 also gives readers an origin of Frankenstein Jr.
Parker: Yeah, Ron Randall drew that. It's a lot of fun.
Nrama: You know, it's interesting you use the word "fun" to describe this, yet you just talked about it having a big threat and being "epic." Has it been tough to mix those two?
Parker: To me, it can't be fun unless there's real danger in it. I feel like people were misled for awhile where they thought, well, it's fun but there are no stakes or anything.
No, there are a lot of stakes in this.
A big influence on this series, from day one, and because he was involved in it at the beginning, was Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier.
I also think of that as a very fun story, but it's certainly got some heavy moments in it.
Nrama: You're also kind of updating the way they fight, I've noticed. Did you have to kind of analyze who they were as characters, what their powers were, and then figure out how they would fight? And maybe give them more dimension through the action scenes?
Parker: Yeah, you just phrased it better than I could. Even their action - because this is primarily an action adventure story - their action has to reveal their character. The way they do anything - the way they problem solve, the way they fight - it all has to come from the same place. During an action scene, you have time to show what's happening in the action, but you have to also make someone's character come through in just the way they handle something.
You know, Jonny's not a scientist. He's just a kid. But his one big advantage is that he'll act very fast. He'll figure out something and jump on it as quickly as he can. And that's just about all the advantage you have when you're 11.
Nrama: I think if there's any character in this that has the reader's main point-of-view, it's probably him, although you kind of jump around to different views. But I feel like it's almost like we're seeing this more sophisticated, realistic take on these characters who were previously marketed toward children - and we're kind of seeing it through an 11-year-old's eyes.
Parker: It hangs near him most of the time. His name is the one in the title. So it's not all Jonny-centric, but it does keep coming back to him.
Nrama: I don't know if you decided to put Jonny at the center just because he's one of he best-known characters, but I feel like it helps get the reader into that kind of wide-eyed mindset of a kid. Did that come into your mind as you created the series, or was Jonny chosen merely because of his popularity?
Parker: Well, yeah, he was the one that I watched the most, and he's the one we're probably keeping the most similar to the cartoon. In others, we have the room to reinvent what they're all about, because their cartoon was pretty simplistic. Like Buzz Conroy and Frankenstein Jr. stuff. Buzz's origin is a little bit darker than it was before. His dad's dead. But part of that is me balancing out, like, "How come all these kids have vanished or dead moms?" So I'm like, "Let's kill some dads."
Parker: Exactly. Let's balance it out a little bit.
But then I also realized that his mom could be a really good character.
So Linda Park Conroy comes in, and you start to get the idea that she's up there with Dr. Quest and Dr. Zin as these great minds of the world, and that's why they're seeking her out now.
So yeah, it's kind of funny when you start to tinker a little bit with them. All these opportunities present themselves.
And it's turning into a big, rich story, which I planned, but it's still a surprise when it happens like this.